The request may arrive via phone or fax, or from a form submitted through the company’s Website.

It might come directly from the homeowner, or by way of a pool builder.

Either way, plaster and finish manufacturers are reporting an upswing in inquiries on their products and, more specifically, which applicators are best equipped to work with them. It’s not exactly a new phenomenon, but it is happening more frequently due to an enhanced visibility on the Web as well as a desire in today’s consumer to take a more active role in the process.

Indeed, customers aren’t just researching what type of pool to buy — they’re also exploring, and in many cases helping select, the different options available.

“Yes, it’s increased considerably, and the Internet is a big driver of this,” says Loren Granstrom, national sales manager at Wet Edge in Mesa, Ariz. He estimates that online requests have jumped 15 to 20 percent over the past couple of years. “We’re also getting a lot of homeowners telling the builder what they want, as opposed to vice versa.”

So which plasterers are most likely to get the call?

According to both manufacturers and applicators, achieving “Most Favored Plasterer” status (in other words, being tapped by the supplier to bid on a job) comes by meeting several different criteria. The most obvious are a company’s proximity to the project, and whether it has the manpower to complete the work.

Classic Tile & Plaster receives a potential lead from manufacturer Pebble Tec at least once a week, accounting for nearly 10 percent of the firm’s renovation and re-plaster business, says Eric Miller, sales manager of the Dallas-based company. 

“We don’t turn many of them down,” Miller adds, noting that about 75 percent of his jobs involve higher-dollar residential projects. “When you get leads from Pebble Tec, the majority of them turn out to be worthwhile.”

At Burkett’s Pool Plastering in Modesto, Calif., Shaun Goldberg says his company received upwards of 30 referrals — the majority of them also high-end residential jobs — from multiple manufacturers in 2011. With 205 employees and experience shooting a number of different products, Burkett’s has earned a reputation as something of a go-to applicator.

“As a manufacturer you want to put your best foot forward,” says Goldberg, the company’s vice president of plaster operation. “[They] throw our name out there because they have to warranty the product and they want it applied correctly, and they know we’ve done a lot of pools.”

In fact, expertise with a particular product is another key ingredient in determining which applicator might be best for a job. And manufacturers typically help facilitate the learning process through their own personnel as well as a third party.

For the past 12 years, Jon Temple has spent countless hours training other plasterers in how to use white plaster, quartz, pebble and polish finishes by Aquavations, Beadcrete and CL Industries.

The courses take place in a 700-square-foot out-of-ground pool at Temple’s Jacksonville, Fla., shop. And they run the gamut, including how to prepare a remodel for new plaster, applying the bonding agent, proper mixing technique, and troweling around steps and benches.

“We help these guys so they don’t make the same mistakes I’ve seen made over 20 years of doing this,” says Temple, owner of Tempool Inc. “In the past it was just a matter of the manufacturers selling it and that was the end of it. Now they want good, hands-on education.”

Temple has cultivated these relationships with his suppliers to the point where he typically is the first call when a manufacturer receives word of a high-profile project. And sometimes they take him to exotic locales. In fact, he’s scheduled to spend two weeks in February and March consulting for a waterpark project in Dubai.

“If you make a good first impression, it’s going to last a long time,” Temple adds.

Southern Grouts and Mortars (SGM Inc.) carries three major pool finish brands, one of which is the only specified product used in Disney properties, says national sales manager Brent Lane. But it’s also a pre-blended product, which means applicators don’t necessarily need the most specialized equipment to use it.

Still, Lane does turn to one plaster crew in particular for high-profile work. That same applicator helps conduct four to six training courses per year on the material at SGM’s Pompano Beach, Fla., factory.

And they’ve stayed loyal to the product — another factor that helps decide who may be best for a project, Lane says.

“As far as job leads go, a lot of it is comfort, and whether they’re actually comfortable traveling and doing the jobs,” he adds. “But you also have to take into account things like language skills — if there’s a job in Spain or Latin America, for example, do I have a Spanish-speaking crew?

“It’s also just about good communication,” Lane says, “and whether you as a manufacturer feel comfortable with who it is you’re sending.”